I was scrolling through Facie the other morning and came across a couple of pictures on one of my Mum’s old school friends news feed…
To most people this is just a picture of two blokes standing against a tree and a big pile of yabby shells. To me, they are my Pop Martion and a short lifetime of memories.
Edmond Andrew Martion was my maternal grandfather for a short 18 or so years. He’s the bloke standing on the left of the Canoe Tree. The other fella is Rudd Campbell who I am also related to, but on another line. If I am really honest, I barely bloody knew Pop and for that I am somewhat upset about.
School holidays in Rainbow didn’t normally see us going out to the farm to see Pop. That only happened when Mum and Dad were with us, on occasions like his birthday, Christmas or Easter. He lived on a farm a few kilometres out of Rainbow. He didn’t own the property, but was caretaker of the farmhouse and worked the farm for the owners.
If my aging memory serves me right the farm house seemed big, dusty and dark with heaps of places to explore. Linoleum floors with a film of red dust. Cigarette stained walls and the scent of it heavy in the air. The rooms and corridors were scarcely furnished, Pop was a minimalist but the whole area would be scattered with empty beer bottles, broken bricks, perhaps some broken crockery and old pots and pans. Car parts littered around a yard that was scratched together with wire fencing, enclosing vegie gardens and the chooks. Huge gum trees surrounded the yard for climbing and bindy-eyes were everywhere. An old outside dunny sat on the fence line; a splintery wooden seat over a big wooden box, and a drum underneath the hole serving as the ‘receptacle’ in which to drop your load; but we never used it, that was for REAL emergencies. Using a square of torn newspaper ripped off a loop of rusty wire that hung from the wall to wipe your lady parts was unimaginable to us. Spiders and snakes were residents and so too were the blowflies. It was a crude lifestyle for us, for Pop perhaps not, he seemed to be comfortable with the no trimmings and nothing wasted lifestyle that he led.
He was a short man from memory, balding and matter of fact. He wore old dark slacks held up by a belt, and I think suspenders and an old sweaty hat. There is a lingering thought, or perhaps memory that he never wore anything else but a bluey singlet, or perhaps he never did and I once saw him with one on, and that one vision has stayed with me… for what reason I don’t know. I never heard him raise his voice unless he was yelling at one of the six thousand farm cats living in the immediate area. All feral and wiry, only coming close for a free feed. A smoke hung from Pop’s lips most of the time, and he said very few words directly to me.
Although I didn’t have a lot to do with him, going to the farm was one of my favourite parts of being up in Rainbow. The farm meant YABBIES, and by yabbies I mean so many yabbies you can not even begin to imagine. Pop would know we were coming and in his strange old way, he would make sure there was at least one huge old Bushell’s coffee jar full of yabby tails for us each. The naked yabby tails would be crammed into the jar and covered with brown vinegar, salt and pepper, soaking away, sitting in the middle of his kitchen table awaiting our arrival.
A trip to Pop’s would sometimes mean a ride round the farm in the back of his floorless paddock bomb to check the yabby nets. Piling in the back of the ute we’d set off with empty hessian bags and return with them chock-a-block full of live yabbies; clicking and scritching inside the bulbous bag. It could also mean the cooking of yabbies in the old drum. The hissing as they dropped into the hot water still makes my skin crawl. Hundreds of green and blue yabbies turning bright orange before your eyes as they were cooked alive.
Cleaning them in the concrete wash trough was the shit job, literally. Yanking the tail from the body, yellow guts and shit would flick at you, in your eyes, through your hair, in your mouth and anywhere else you could reach if you weren’t careful enough while dissecting each yabby one by one. Tails ripped from the body, deshelled and then pulling the back strip from the tail to remove the poo line. Then placing them into the tail and strip bowl to be rinsed. Claws into another bowl unless we cracked them with our teeth and ate them as we peeled the tails. It wasn’t a glorious job, but we loved it for the most part.
In my later years, I saw Pop less. I started to go to Rainbow without even visiting him. I don’t know why. I have no reason for letting him go. I regret that. He died on the 9th of December 1993. A stroke I think, something heart related. He was seventy.
Since I came across these pictures on Facebook, I have done a little bit of digging and managed to find his service records in the National Archives. A huge amount of it I can’t decipher, but what I have come to understand is this. He was 19 when he enlisted and served 2 years in the 54 Light Anti Air Regiment based mostly in Darwin (I think). Pop married after he returned from service. He was father to five children, 3 boys and two girls. He and Gran separated when the kids were young after tragedy struck when their youngest son Robert drowned in a dam. It was a catalyst for what I understand was the inevitable. Gran moved into Rainbow to live with her extended family, helping raise the kids.
Mum never talked about her dad much or what her childhood was like with him in it. His brother William was killed on January 9, 1945, in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, he was 19 years old. It’s been said on a number of occasions that Pop could be violent and ‘not a very nice man’. I don’t condone his behaviour at all, but it just shows how little our returned soldiers received in the way of support and help after enduring only god knows what while defending our country. I don’t think Pop ever left his homeland to serve, but losing a brother to war couldn’t have been easy. It kind of makes sense why Pop lived alone now, why he drank so much and lived a solitary life. The death of his son and the guilt attached to it perhaps compounded his war memories. I have no doubt he had demons lurking in there somewhere, regrets that things were different and I think the beer numbed it all but I never saw this violent side of him and I’m thankful I didn’t, that’s even if it did exist? I wish I knew more about him, who he really was and what made him tick. But I don’t.
So to me, Pop Martion wasn’t the man that I heard he was in later years. In my little girl eyes he was a quiet man, reserved around us kids and supplier of yabbies. He pressed his trousers under his mattress every night, and ate simple meals in a simple farm house. He lived a simple life.
I have no photos of me and Pop. Nothing but a pressed white, embroidered pillow case that I was given after he died. What I do have are fond memories of a man who was kind and fed me yabbies. That’s enough for me.
Make sure you turn the teapot twice clockwise and once anticlockwise!